A little over a year ago, gospel singer Jonathan McReynolds was still just a college kid, creating and recording songs in the makeshift studio he assembled in his dorm room. Now he’s a bona fide recording artist whose debut album, Life Music, charted No. 3 on the Billboard gospel charts. Talk about progress.
“I didn’t do anything intentionally,” he says modestly during a recent swing by JET’s Chicago offices. “This whole thing wasn’t intentional. It’s something that came out naturally.”
McReynolds, who had just finished celebrating his 23rd birthday when he visited, grew up a church boy on Chicago’s south side, notoriously known for its gun and gang violence.
“I was oblivious to a lot of the stuff that was going on, even though I lived right in the middle of it,” he admits. “But I knew there was more past my couple of blocks. When you know how big the world is, it changes how you interact with it.”
That proved true for McReynolds, who went on to graduate from high school with a stellar academic record and later enrolled as an undergrad at Columbia College of Chicago where he perfected his musical craft. One Christmas, he gifted family members with a CD of the music he’d been making (“That’s the artist thing to do”). It was titled The Very Unofficial EP and spurred unexpected success and attention on YouTube.
After one of McReynolds’ friends played the CD for his minister, it ended up in the hands of Pastor John Hannah — head of one of the largest church congregations in Chicago, New Life Covenant. Hannah featured the music on his radio show one morning, and it’s been a whirlwind from that point forward. McReynolds began to travel the country performing and eventually signed a record deal with Tehillah Records.
McReynolds describes his latest effort, Life Music, as a “new approach to gospel music.” During his visit, he serenaded the JPC office with live versions of I Love You and Coming Out — two acoustic tracks from the album.
With its’ stripped-down feel, I Love You could easily be mistaken for yet another love song about a significant other. But upon closer listen, you hear McReynolds’ unyielding dedication and affection for his Lord and Savior. Coming Out is a simple, spirited tune about breaking out of a deep depression.
“We all go through stuff — depression, fears. But the point of the song is that you’re not meant to stay there long,” he says. “You have to come out.”
Lyrically, the album is reflective of gospel — uplifting, positive and inspirational. But sonically, the vibe is more India.Arie meets John Mayer.
Comparisons aside, who is Jonathan McReynolds?
“Jonathan is a lot of stuff,” he says with a sly smile. “I like to broaden myself. I’m athletic. I’m also a big nerd. I can tell you the names of all the clouds in the sky,” he says and begins to rattle them off.
But more than anything, he recognizes the talent that has been bestowed upon him and wants to respect it in every way possible.
“I just want to make a mark on whomever I’m supposed to make a mark on,” he says. “It’s lame, I know… but it’s the truth.”
Life Music is available in stores and on iTunes now. Visit http://www.jonathanmcreynolds.com for more information.